Art has many well-known benefits; from stress-relief to encouraging creativity or enabling communication. But for some Mind clients it’s empowering them to thrive.

Alex, Ryan and Stevie are participants in the ArtMania program hosted at the Wangaratta Mind Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing, and their stunning work is currently on display at the ‘Pop! Reflections on Popular Culture’ exhibition. None of them had previously been recognised artistically, but gained great confidence from having their work displayed.

“I didn’t think it was good enough – my Mum and Dad got a huge shock when they found out,” Alex recalls.

The self-belief gained by Alex, Ryan and Stevie is shared amongst all ArtMania participants, who have gained a sense of community and belonging through the program. Not only does it get clients out of the house but it also encourages creativity.

“It’s something to do, it’s better than sitting at home being grumpy,” Stevie says. “You get a bit of happiness being here.”

Shea O’Keefe is the facilitator of ArtMania, and hosts sessions twice a week where clients are encouraged to do what makes them happy; whether it’s jewellery making, macramé or oil paintings.

“I don’t facilitate the program in a way that I’d say we’re going to do this and everyone does the same thing – it doesn’t work. They’re all individuals that have a different level of skill and different interests,” she says.

Once a client has identified their medium they’re left to their own devices, as Shea takes a backseat and allows their creativity to flow in an encouraging environment surrounded by supportive peers. Shea believes it’s this sense of community that enables clients to flourish.

“They’re a real gang and support one-another. Even though they use it as a therapeutic practice to take away the fact they’re together for mental ill-health we focus on their confidence as artists and build on the technical skills and having public outcomes, including regular exhibitions and legitimate outcomes as artists. The confidence the process of being an artist gives is something you can’t put a value on,” she says. “There’s an immense amount of freedom in art and also control. It’s something they’re 100 percent in control of and if you make a mistake you can just stop and do it again.”

Another factor behind ArtMania’s success is Shea herself, who is able to relate and connect with participants through her own experience of mental ill-health. Like ArtMania’s participants, it was art that empowered Shea through her own personal struggles.

“When I was seven my father got very sick – I was an emotional girl with a strong connection with my dad,” she says. “Mum organised for me to see an art therapist and she explained to me the best way to work things out is to just draw or paint something. I’m quite open with the guys about my own lived experience and I think that connection is quite important.”

Pop! Reflections on Popular Culture can be seen at the Wangaratta Art Gallery (Victoria) until February 3.

You can learn more about Mind group recreation and leisure activities in your area by calling Mind Connect on 1300 286 463.